An article titled ‘5 million people, 70 000 cleaners… that’s ridiculous!’ published in The Straits Times on February 14, 2015 caught my attention. It mentioned that cleanliness is a significant issue in Singapore as it is not only crucial to maintain the environmental and physical state of our home; it also reflects how others view the responsibility of Singaporeans in general.
However, the article begged to differ. The interviewee, Liak Teng Lit, who is the group chief executive of Alexandra Health System, was extremely disappointed with the way Singaporeans have a ‘heck-care’ attitude towards cleanliness in the streets of Singapore, where he even went so far as to ridicule how we have an army of cleaners cleaning up after us.
This made me realise that what Mr Liak had said was indeed very true and apparent here in Singapore. I was also ashamed of Singaporeans’ nonchalant actions such as not bothering to throw pieces of tissue in the near-by dustbins and deciding to ‘casually’ leave them on public grounds. Even I myself have to admit that even if I have spotted someone littering, I did not gather up the courage to tell him to pick his litter up. As such, we must now take action to prevent this ‘disease’ from escalating into a worse state that could not be reversed.
Firstly, to tackle this problem, the main cause of it needs to be found. In other words, education. Similar to Mr Liak’s response, who feels that parents are at fault for this state of affairs, education of Singaporeans is something that is necessary in order to increase our awareness of the physical environments around us. The young need to learn to clean up after themselves wherever they go and to maintain the place in a neat state so the next user is able to utilise it. For example, some Singaporeans leave the toilet seats in the cubicles in an utter mess after using it, always thinking that ‘the cleaning aunties will clean mah’. However, this irresponsible behaviour not only gives inconvenience to the next user, it is also unhygienic and disgusting. Therefore, our way of thinking needs to change for the better to not depend on others to clean up after us.
Next, as Mr Liak himself has also suggested, we have to bring down the number of cleaners in Singapore. As a first-world country, we have to stop depending on the army of cleaners. It seems ironic that as citizens living in a rich city who are able to carry out international business meetings, shop in high-end malls with enormous bags of H&M clothes in one hand and a Starbucks cappuccino in another, we are unable to clean up after themselves. Even worse, we need an army of cleaners to clean up after our mess. Isn’t it embarrassing? It will not be long before foreigners start distinguishing Singapore not as a clean city, but a cleaned city.
Lastly, with the aid of campaigns and movements, Singaporeans will be able to get rid of this societal ‘disease’. One example is the tray return campaign initiated by the National Environment Agency in 2013. The campaign encourages customers to return their trays after meals in public dining areas such as the hawker centres or fast food restaurants. However, this campaign was met with some resistance with a Facebook page named ‘Say NO to Tray Return Singapore’. This very fact thus reflects the attitude of some Singaporeans. If we even avoid our mistakes by rejecting campaigns which are created for our own good, how can we even improve as a society? How then, can we change our mind-sets by thinking that having cleaners clearing up our mess is alright?
We don’t! By being close-minded and refusing to amend our bad habits, as a society, we will never be able to raise our standards and be among those countries that prioritise cleanliness such as Taiwan and Japan. Therefore, it is really up to us to face this societal ‘disease’ and to overcome it.